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Paul Giamatti | You Know Him, You Just Don't Know You Know Him...Yet.
an emily blunt interview



Paul Giamatti is intensely ah-dorable! He's one of those ubiquitous actors, yet no one seems to recognize the name. Well no longer…

He's finally got a bonifide award winning lead role that showcases his nature abilities and the press folk are taking note. In HBO Films' American Splendor he plays Harvey Pekar. Harvey's a writer who makes notes, blunt observations on life, and then has them illustrated in a kind of anti-comic book comic book of the same name (read the review for all da info).

Giamatti's been in my short list of five faves since I saw him as Jimmy Tomorrow in a production of my favorite play, 'The Iceman Cometh' (O'Neill). A performance so moving I ruined my make-up with tears of sadness, and joy, at seeing the character delivered so triumphantly (I'm a goon I know…some people dig sports I dig theater okay?).

His projects are usually exceptional choices; Storytelling, Confidence, The Truman Show, Man on the Moon etc etc. He even played an Orangutan in Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes- stealing screen time from Marky Mark! So he's got a sense of humor…

Paulie blends into whatever he does and brings a…hmm…realness to the guy he's playing. Yes, even the ape!

Paul's becoming like my coveted favorite yummy the rice krispie treat…I enjoyed those for years till the elves had to go and mass produce them in convenient single serving packs. Now they are everywhere like Paul. Wait. With Giamatti that's a good thing. This guy is taaalllleeennnttted! After years of "being there" with the attention American Splendor is getting he should be thrilled to bits.

We sat down to chat about the film and stuff recently.

Paul: So…

Emily: So what was it like to do a cartoon character based on a real guy?

Paul: I never thought of him as so much a comic book character- I just thought of him as a the real guy. So it was not the comic book part of it I looked at. It didn't get weird or anything like that. I just thought of him as "a guy."

Emily: What was it like having the man you are playing in the film and around the set?

Paul: The idea was they wanted him in it. When I got the script it was indicted there would be documentary sequences. it was always there…whether or not they thought the whole way through if it didn't work I don't know what they would do- I mean they might have taken it out if he sucked or something like that [actually it sounded like he said "socks" hehehehe-I adore this guy].

Emily: How do you like the Harvey and Joyce being in the film - documentary style?

Paul: I think it works really well! It could have sort have blown up and I think the fact that they are in it is what makes it most interesting- otherwise it would be more a standard bio pic I mean not so much so- but it would still have more of the elements of a straightforward bio.

Emily: Is it higher pressure to have the guy you're playing there? I mean you are actually sitting behind him -as him-in a part of the film! Does it make you nervous at all?

Paul: It does! At first it did. When I first met them all they were interested to see how uncomfortable I was - or how interested I would be in doing that. It's definitely intimidating but in some ways it actually made easier because it was a clear-cut task. This is what we want you to do and this is what we want you to be like.

Emily: Did you find yourself shifting in the character as you sat with him?

Paul:Actually yeah. I tried not to watch him too much now- because in a lot of ways he different then the Harvey I play. But yeah! There were a lot of things I'd notice…something he did physically that day and I wanted to use that-or the way he said something. There were phrases he'd use that I'd wished I'd used in the movie, but I just forgot! He has a lot of really funny things…

Emily: Was the script improv'd then?

Paul: No…No. I mean there were things I wish I had have brought in. I remembered thinking how can I get this in. None of it was improving - well except for the documentary parts… I read a couple of the comic books when I was in college. That's all. Not all of them. I didn't do anything in college but watch David Letterman [laughter]. So I knew who Pekar was. I saw [him] every time he was on. The last one is interesting…it's explosive and stuff like that. But Harvey is actually kind of laughing through the whole thing. I mean having a really good time…I suppose it's a lot uglier for Letterman then it was for Harvey. He just sort of over the whole thing. That was the one bit Letterman wouldn't release - for whatever reason. At first they panicked about not having that. But now they like the way it ended up. With all the real Letterman footage by that point a recreation was somewhat unexpected. I felt like it kept the story more with the fictitious guy, which they kind of liked at that point.

Emily: So know you know Harvey. Is what we see in the film the real him or is it more of a carictiture?

Paul: He has a shtick definitely. He's a kind of performer. There's definitely a persona that he's created. And he's put it on and off in his public life too. He does have a shtick to some extent. He knows how people expect him to behave. But he's older now and a lot more mellowed out then he use to be.

Emily: Do you relate to him?

Paul: laughter] I don't know if I so much relate to him as I admire him. You can idealize that. A guy who willfully made himself in to this pariah kind of thing. Certainly there's something I delight in - I fancy in there.

Emily: What would a comic about you be like?

Paul: Boring. [laughter] Filtered through him it's not because he's not really boring. I'm not that interesting…that's why I play other people I guess [laughter - nervous tell-tale laughter].

Emily: Would you say he's a popular "underground" cartoon/writer?

Paul: Sometimes it's just the fact that it's underground - that's what makes people want it. A lot of times that's enough for people. At the time he started doing them I guess he was innovative in comic book terms…the autobiographical thing the self-reveling thing. And a lot of that kind of stuff was going on in other parts of the art world and stuff. Like the "Living Theater!" They were running around naked talking about having sex with their mother up on stage [laughter-ish]. There was a lot of that kind of stuff going on. He was part of a culture moment and, I guess ahead of his time too. His earlier stuff is much more kind of ugly and dark - a lot more twisted sexual stuff. A lot of the early ones he never even published.

Emily: Why'd you want to be involved? When did you get interested in telling the story?

Paul: It was when I read the script it was the most interesting! I thought the way they were going to try and tell the story was interesting and aside from the documentary and the cartoon stuff it seemed like they were avoiding the bio thing - it just seemed to be a good movie about an artist. I mean a movie about an artist that …it wasn't cheesy, or sentimental or boring. But I remembered him from Letterman and thought, "That would be a very interesting guy to play."

Emily: I have to tell you - you actually made me cry in Iceman Cometh [he played Jimmy Tomorrow on Broadway a few years back in a 4 ½ hour version of O'Neill's masterpiece]…

Paul: Ohhhahahahoahedahe! Thanks!!! Uhhhha [nervous laughter absorbing the compliment].

Emily: [this guy is simply precious - the really talented ones always are!] Is there anything acting-wise that you haven't done yet -that you long to do?

Paul: You mean like a genre?

Emily: Yeah.

Paul: No I like all these things. I find strictly comedic things - broad comic things the hardest thing to do actually. I do it a lot and its fun- but I find it hard. I don't find it so rewarding because I find it so hard! I prefer to do other things. I feel more comfortable doing roles like this where the humor is not right on the surface. While I was acting you can forget it's suppose to be funny. You know? Comedy on film is interesting to do. It's easier if you will.

Emily: You mean because you can't hear a laugh - a reaction - and be "aware" of your goal?

Paul:Yeah. You don't hear laughter - which is good so you can forget it's suppose to be funny. Broad comedy is really hard to do on film.

Emily: So do you have a goal in your career?

Paul: [laughter] The goal is financial security and permanent time off basically! I don't mind having a lot of down time - I'm pretty lazy actually. I'm lucky I 've worked pretty steadily. That I've managed to do that.

Emily: Do you miss the stage?

Paul: For along time it's all I did. I regret not doing it as much these days. I feel I've gotten kind of soft not doing the stage stuff. In terms of being a better actor it's really important. I did 'Iceman' for a while. Last fall I did a play with Al Pacino called "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui" Did you see it?

Emily: No. I haven't been to New York properly in two years.

Paul: It was a great experience…but it wasn't what 'Iceman Cometh' was [big smile] which kind of spoiled me for plays in a lot of ways. We did seven a week- you just couldn't ask someone to do eight a week of Iceman - that Iceman. And especially asking the guy who played Hickey to do eight performances - it's just crazy. It was amazingly grueling…we had one to show day were we had basically a half an hour between shows! It was on a rate stage so for all the people who had to be asleep in the bar all the time? Everybody's back was all screwed up. People were getting shin splints and bursitis all kinds of ailments. I was weird how physically intense it was. It's an emotionally grueling play too. It took a while to come away. I missed it a lot. Everybody fell apart after- a couple guys got divorced afterwards; I had horrible acid reflux afterwards. Patrick Godfrey was 75 years old and amazing - one night I thought he died on stage! He fell asleep and I couldn't wake him! We had lines coming up I really thought he was dead. I thought he died of a heart attack.

Emily: Terrifying!

Paul: Yeah - yes…. man. He did it for a year or something-that play-amazing stamina. He came over London with the production.

Emily: So you're in Newsweek with this film- how's that feel?

Paul: I feel a little chilly really.

Emily: Chilly?

Paul: Chilly? [laughter] No silly ! [his delightful pronunciations actually got me and I misunderstood him…] It's nice! It's a very nice flattering thing. It's a great job- I don't know if I think of it as art.

Emily: Are you going to frame it?

Paul: [laughter] No I haven't gotten it framed …yet…[that adorable shy giggle surfaces again] My mother will probably want the plaque version of it though to stick up on the wall or something [laughter]. It's great for the movie - it got a really great review!

Emily: Must be nice to be getting all this recognition.

Paul: Yes. It exceeded all my expectations! It was a TV movie. So I figured, " Maybe it would make it to TV some day." Everything is just gravy. How much better and can get for this? I don't know It went so much further then I thought…

Emily: It's very theatrical - personal.

Paul:Yes. It's a lot like theater in many ways. The physical part too. It was very emotionally involving. Those people are very nice people.

Emily: It must have been liberating to have a character [Harvey Pekar] with such a great wit - the reviews label him as kind of a misanthrope. Knowing the guy as you do what do you think of that?

Paul: Yeah, It was liberating. It wasn't a drag. I don't think of him as a misanthrope either. I don't think Harvey [Pekar] doesn't like people. He actually really likes people. He really curious about everything. He suddenly focuses on someone and really gets into his or her life story.

Emily: Did you have you spent a lot of time with Harvey?

Paul:Not really. He showed up basically for the craft services tray [laughter]. He was more into the process of making a movie- he talked with the grips and electricians. He was around a fair amount. He's a character! It was actually great to have him around.

Emily: Did he ever comment on the script with you?

Paul: No…actually there was one scene- the relationship between him and Joyce is for sort of comic effect and there was one scene where he didn't like it. I was yelling at "Joyce" and he said, "That was really good - but I would have never had the balls to talk to my wife like that. I'm too fuckin' scared of my wife. They changed the dynamic between them for that comic effect. They have a very different relationship. It's fairly accurately shown- these are people that don't have time for romance. Joyce said when she first met him- literally first met him- she said, "I liked what he was selling, He liked what I was selling, so we figured' what the hell.'"

What the hell indeed. Pekar and Brabner have outlasted folks that court for years before taking the plunge into marital bliss. I think it's wild. I also dig this film and couldn't be happier for Mr. Giamatti's spotlight. See this wonderful film immediately. That's a direct order Blunterettes. Kinda...




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